When trading for Nazem Kadri, the Avalanche knew they were taking on some risk. While Kadri had been a dutiful soldier in Toronto and did a lot of the dirty work that Auston Matthews or John Tavares wouldn’t be concerned with, there is always the chance that Kadri goes off the deep end and gets himself suspended at crucial times. Kadri has been suspended five times in the past six years by the league, and fined or sent him by his own team a few times as well. The risk seemed worth it though, because A. Kadri is one of the more dynamic two-way centers in the league and B. perhaps being out of the pressure-cooker of Toronto which frays just about everyone’s nerves would calm him down a bit.
The latter we won’t find out about truly until the playoffs. The former is the problem, because Kadri hasn’t been what he was in Toronto so far with the Avs.
Kadri has 22 points in 30 games, which is certainly more than enough. It puts him on pace to match or even exceed his career high of 61 points, set three seasons ago. And that’s what the Avs do, get up the ice ASAP and fill the net.
But you’re supposed to get a possession-driving checking center with Kadri as well, and the Avs haven’t seen that yet. Kadri is carrying by far the worst relative numbers of his career. Kadri was continually above the team-rate in T.O. and with far worse zone starts. He’s -9.2 in his xG%, and -4.0 in his Corsi percentage. Both would be nearly double the worst marks of his career in Toronto. And the weird thing is, Kadri is starting more shifts in the offensive zone than ever before. So why is he backing up all the time?
Is it teammates? Hard to say. Kadri has spent most of this time this season with Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky. Donskoi is certainly no moron when it comes to the defensive side of the puck, Burakovsky can be a little more flaky. But there are certainly worse combinations. And that isn’t really that much worse than Leo Komarov and Patrick Marleau, whom Kadri spent most of his time with the past three years in Toronto.
Maybe it was Babcock’s more conservative system that kept him buffeted, where in Colorado you have a fair number of yahoos (in a good way) on the back end. Toronto certainly had no less speed and skill than Colorado does, but the criticism of Babcock (among others) was that he rarely unleashed it. Jared Bednar certainly does, and maybe Kadri is just finding his way in a more open spaces.
And maybe the Avs don’t care. They have Pierre-Edouard Bellmare to take the true dungeon shifts, with Colin Wilson and Tyson Jost doing some of that work as well. Maybe the Avs just need a straight-up #2 center. At the end of the day, the Avs are outscoring their opponents 22-15 at evens with Kadri on the ice, whatever the possession numbers are. For now, that’s probably enough.
Still, the Avs will be holding their breath come April. The Avs don’t have a blood feud with anyone like they do with the Leafs did with the Bruins, so Kadri’s blood won’t be boiling yet. Especially as all the Leafs heard about last year during the season was how they couldn’t beat the Bruins (and they didn’t). Still, put Kadri in the middle of the cauldron of an extended series, against someone annoying like the Flames or Blues, and you wonder if he can keep in check for the first time.